State of the Church 2021
Per our Constitution, the Senior Pastor is asked to give an annual appraisal of the State of the Church, this church. Today is that day, so we will come back to our study of the Psalms later. Right now, however, it is important for us to look forward to 2021 and ask where I believe, as your shepherd, God is taking us. Granted, in a church our size there are more opportunities we will focus on than I can cover in thirty minutes. Hence, my purposes in this unique sermon will be to touch upon some of the bigger ticket items.
Looking back at 2020, we can safely say, “That was some year, wasn’t it?” Some cartoons put the difficulties and challenges of the year is perspective quickly. Here’s one I like. Yeah, Covid pretty much eclipsed the functioning of the earth as we know it. I no sooner returned with my tour group from Israel in late February and within a week we had to cancel live worship services, and start up on-line services. Our thriving children’s, youth, college, young adults, men’s and women’s ministry had the brakes applied to them too, forcing us to think about how to do ministry differently. All in all, we weathered the various off-the-charts challenges of 2021. Covid was the first of many. Who can forget the racial injustices we witnessed, nor the terrible rioting which rolled over many cities like an uncaring, destructive storm? This was a year like no other, posing many challenges for the nation and loca churches.
Regardless of what we faced, we met it head-on with grace, trusted in the providence of God Almighty, prayer, camaraderie, and a loyal devotion to our Lord and His Holy Word. We also adapted, listened, learned, and launched out in creative ways which enabled us to continue to fulfill our divine mandate to win people to Christ, while also building a ministry which is structured from the top to the bottom regarding how to help saints mature as Christ followers. As you can see, God has truly blessed us in tumultuous times, and He will bless us again as we go forward into a new year.
Why do I make this confident assertion? The answers are many:
(1) He promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church, and they won’t (Matt. 16:18).
(2) He works best when times are adverse. Just consider our Lord’s journey to the cross for validation. From tragedy came triumph on an eternal scale.
(3) Nothing and no one will thwart the messianic kingdom purposes of God. He raises up kings. He puts kings down. Why? To accomplish His wonderful purposes to usher in His kingdom of peace, as prophesied through the Old and New Testaments.
In the meantime what should we do? We should focus on one pivotal question:
What Is The State Of Our Church For 2021?
Let’s jump right in because there is so much to cover.
Consider Our Finances
Why start here? The simple answer is you can tell much about a Christian’s spiritual walk by looking at how he strategizes to give to God . . . regardless of the times, be they easy or tough. As stated, the challenges of 2020 touched up various areas of all of our lives, but the financial was, for all intents and purposes, one of the most difficult. Some suffered job loss, others had their hours cut. Many business owners watched as sales dropped and profit margins shrank. Churches across our great land were summarily impacted with this financial downturn. Some had to lay off staff, while many faced, and still face, huge budget deficits.
Where we are concerned, you collectively stepped up to the proverbial plate and gave like you have never given before. While we didn’t make our budget of $5.4 million, our staff held our spending down and we came in at the end of the year with a surplus of roughly $900,000 (I say roughly because this number will slightly fluctuate as we pay off bills from 2020). A surplus? Yes. A surplus, again. We’ve had large ones for the last twelve years straight, which is amazing in and of itself. This year, however, stands out because of what occurred from January through December. You gave when during times of blessing, and you gave times of hardship. What a sign of utter maturity.
As I think about our collective obedience to give God His rightly portion of that which He has entrusted to us, I can’t help but reflect on the words of Paul to the Corinthians. I see you in each verse of 2 Corinthians 8, verses 1 through 4.
1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: 2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. 3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints (2 Cor. 8).
The Macedonian churches blew Paul away at how much they contributed toward his collection of monies for the mother church in Jerusalem. Why? Because their adversity was tied to their poverty status. They did not let that adversity stop them when a viable need was presented to them. No. They gave sacrificially, joyously, and abundantly to help meet the need of a local church.
Our adversity was much different, to be sure, however, it was, and still is present because the impact of Covid, riots, political turmoil and so forth as still with us. Despite these adversities and how they impacted you personally, you still gave to God in a magnanimous fashion. Your giving in December is a case study. We came into the month with a rather large deficit, so Dave DuHadway informed you of this and challenged you to give, and give you did. Giving in December proved to be the highest in church history. Just giving to the general fund amounted to $729,315, which is $50,000 above our highest giving from 2019. This is simply jaw-dropping. Because of your obedience and desire to support the vision and goals of this godly church, our giving reached its zenith as the year came to a close. Amazing.
And this is not to overlook the fact that you have also given three million over the nine million needed for the down payment on our new worship/educational/staff facility. This level of giving also continued at break neck speed in relation to our building program as you gave to the general fund.
Again, I commend you for your spiritual maturity and sacrifice. I’m proud of you and the Lord’s face shines upon you. As you have blessed this church, God will, and is, bless you profoundly. As Paul promises, “6 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Cor. 9:6 NKJ).
Because of you, we touched lives for time and eternity, we helped the needy and less fortunate, we trained countless people in the ways of God, we were equipped to hire new and talented staff, we impacted people on mission fields, we provided counsel to the those who hurt, and so on. Now, a new year is before us with a new budget around $5.5 million. Based on what I’ve seen from you over the years, and especially last year, I’m confident you will give beyond measure to make sure we are a bright light of God’s hope in a hopeless world.
Second, I invite you to . . .
Consider Our Witness
Christ’s last words to us should ring in our ears and move our mouths to speak:
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NKJ).
Until He returns, we are commanded to be courageous, caring, clear voices of the life-giving gospel He died and rose again for (1 Cor. 15:1-5). Are you? Are we? Yes, I’m sure, but there is so much more work to do.
Looking back at the complexities of 2020, I think many of us became voracious news junkies who simply had to get the latest scoop on Covid, the riots, the baseless charges brought against a duly elected President, the debacle of the election process, and the second impeachment of our national leader. Our concern, wrapped up in our zeal, in my view had, and still has, one major negative spiritual impact. It has served to distract us from what is spiritually primary. We are so zeroed in on what is, in our various and diametrically opposed views, primary politically, we have turned our focus from what matters most to God. And what is that? He reminds us in His closing words of John 4:
35 "Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest '? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 "And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 "For in this the saying is true: 'One sows and another reaps.' 38 "I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors" (Jn. 4:35-42 NKJ).
Most of us know the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jews didn’t travel from Jerusalem north to Galilee by taking the direct, and shortest, route through the stained soil of Samaria. Instead, they traveled east across the Jordan, headed north past Samaria, and then moved northwest into Galilee. Why didn’t the Jews like the Samaritans? They were half-breed Jews, polluted Jews. They were the result of poor Jews, who were left in the land after the Assyrians invaded in 722 B.C., who had intermarried with pagan Gentiles brought in by their enemy. The two ethic groups were so divided, the Samaritans even formed their own diluted religion based on the Torah. They looked for a Moses type of messianic leader based on Deuteronomy 18:15-18, but he was not of the divine order of the prophets because they rejected all OT books beyond the Pentateuch.
He not only purposefully walked where no Jew, or Rabbi, would walk, He had a conversation with a Samaritan woman, and a sinful one at that because she had had quite the love life (John 4:16-18). Currently, she was living in sin with a man who was not her husband. Yet, Jesus, who had great compassion for her, talked to her anyway. He didn’t get all caught up in the pugnacious, punitive politics of His day. He didn’t let racial issues stop Him. He didn’t let the racial hatred of both groups keep Him for going where He knew he had to go (John 4:4, “But He needed to go through Samaria”). No, He purposefully and lovingly went to reap one soul for time and eternity. And reap He did as she, by faith, recognized His messianic status once He showed He possessed divine knowledge about her sordid life. She went to the well that day for earthly water, and she went back joyously into town . . . without her water pot . . . with a life full of heavenly water known as divine forgiveness.
When His trusty disciples returned with some food they had secured, they couldn’t believe He wasn’t hungry. Here’s the exchange they had with Jesus:
30 Then they went out of the city and came to Him. 31 In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." 32 But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know." 33 Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work (Jn. 4:30-34 NKJ).
They, like us, focused on the physical/temporal need of the moment, while Jesus focused on the spiritual/eternal need. They were distracted from what matters most, but not He.
This is when Jesus talked to them about the concept of spiritual harvesting. He uses a farming motto they all knew: “There are still four months and then comes the harvest.” In a sense, Jesus says, “You men all know how long it takes between sowing and reaping, and you all know when the time of reaping is near because you can see the white tops of the wheat dancing as the wind blows.” He went on to enlighten them that the times of sowing seeds of spiritual truth by the OT prophets now made this the opportune time to harvest souls in Samaria. Yeah, they were preoccupied with food, and Jesus brings them back to reality and says it’s time to get to work reaping souls from this despised, but most worthy, ethnic group they had overlooked for far too long.
It is a one to one correspondence to today. I think the upheavals of 2020, which still reverberate into 2021, are keeping us from looking at the temporal instead of the eternal, from the physical as opposed to the spiritual. The fields about us in northern Virginian and D. C. are, indeed, white unto harvest, meaning lost souls surround us. We aren’t here to debate with them so they embrace our political position. We, as saints are sowers and reapers. We are here to sow the gospel, but, most importantly, I think it is time to ramp up our reaping with the gospel because people are ripe and ready to come to Christ.
The amazing thing is what God can, and will do through the salvation of one person. Read on and see what I mean:
9 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did." 40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.
41 And many more believed because of His own word. 42 Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (John 4).
The testimony of one new Christian woman freed from the slavery to sin led to the salvation of the many.
God is waiting to do this many times over in our country, but we must purposefully go perhaps where we’ve never gone before. We must share the gospel with people inside and outside our given ethnic group. We must move outside our comfort zones and speak up about the person and work of Jesus. We must point people, as Jesus did, from false belief, which doesn’t save, to true belief which does save. We must stop being distracted by the political issues and be laser locked on the spiritual issues: souls need to be saved by the Savior and you are the reaper in the field.
So, here’s a prayer for you today: “Lord, where do you want me to go with the gospel? Who is my Samaritan you want me to give the gospel to?” And while you are praying you might ask for forgiveness by being so caught up with the temporal tempest you have pulled off target of what matters most to God: the salvation of the lost.
To assist you in this quest we will, as your staff, work this year to give you a gospel presentation you can quickly and easily memorize so you can reap with confidence. Please, avail yourself of the tool when we present it to you. Learn it, then use it and stand back and watch God work. May the harvest be so great that we have people constantly lined up to get baptized in our new baptismal pool.
Next, for 2021 . . .
Consider Our Service
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul likens the Church universal to a body. His observations, of course, readily apply to the local church like ours. After speaking about some of the spiritual gifts the Spirit gives to believers in verses 1 through 10, Paul teaches:
11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ (1 Cor. 12:11-12 NKJ).
“All these things” references spiritual gifts given to us at the moment of conversion. The next clause states the Spirit divvy’s up the gifts based on what He desires for each of us to possess. In verse 12, Paul logically turns in verses 13 through the end of the chapter to drive home a few important truths: One, we all possess a gift or a gifts by God’s decree, two, each person’s gift is of paramount important to the functioning of the body, and three, gifts must be used in order for the body to be unified and accomplish its divinely assigned goals in this old, sinful world.
The impact of Covid demonstrates the importance of Paul’s teaching here. As the local body has been splintered in some respects, the entire body has felt the pain, and many have stepped up to fill the gaps left by those, who for a variety or viable reasons, are not able to be physically present.
Yet now as socially distancing methods are proven to be effective, coupled with the vaccination program currently being rolled out, we’re watching our physical numbers jump back up in all areas, from live worship to children’s ministry. As this will most likely increase in the ensuing months, I’d like the challenge you that we need to slowly but surely get back to the volunteer levels we had prior to the Covid outbreak. Granted, we are nowhere near the 240 adults we needed per Sunday to run the awesome children’s program, but it not take much to get back to this level of impact. So, in order to prepare for growth, I challenge you to consider where you will serve this next year. The quality of our life-changing programs depend primarily on you. Your presence has touched lives in profound ways, I believe God is calling you to consider where you should be used as more and more people want to return to church.
I will say, I am most comforted by the twenty people who quickly stepped forward this week to say they want to be part of our already great safety team. In our ever-darkening days, where certain people cannot and will not tolerate the teaching of the Word of God, folks like you are needed as never before. So thank you for doing your part to protect all of us and to enable to body to function properly.
BCC has accomplished much for the Lord over the years and it is essentially because you are known for your passionate desire to serve others in Christ’s name. Covid rightly curtailed our high level of surface for the last year, but I’m convinced the Lord is calling us to get up and get in the game so we can go on to new heights. Can we count on you?
Finally, I believe it is important for each of us . . .
Consider Our Fruit
As followers of Christ, Paul tells us in Galatians 5 how we should seek to live daily:
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
The command in Greek is in the present tense denoting Spirit walking is supposed to be a constant concern of ours. Once we are saved, our sins are forgiven, but we are still live in a sinful body with its sinful desires and lusts. And there is a battle, moment by moment, between living for the Spirit and living for the flesh. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Walking in the Spirit means we recognize that the power to live a holy life before the world comes not from us but from our yieldedness to Him. When we yield to Him, He empowers us to do live in a way which pleases god. When we yield to our fleshly desires, we wind up doing things we didn’t want to do. Maturity, therefore, calls for us to be finely tuned to relying upon the Spirit each moment of each day so we, in turn, evidence holy characteristics to God and those who watch us.
Why are we talking about this in relation to the State of the Church? Good question. From what I see on a daily basis, nationally and locally, the works and lifestyle of the flesh are the order of the day. What are they? Paul identifies them:
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are the godless traits tearing lives and our country apart. For the sake of time, we’ll only cherry pick a few of them.
Fornication in Greek, pornea, speaks of any and all kinds of sexual perversion. In our day, as in Paul’s, the world embraced sexual deviancy of all sorts, while Paul said, “No, some things are perverted and wrong before God, so steer clear of them. Our culture virtually, anymore, hardly sees any kind of sexual activity as perverted. Much is permissible, especially if “love” is present. The result is a sex-crazed culture where anything goes and most everything one wants to do is, well, legal. Lewdness, comes from the Greek aselgia which means to be ready and willing to do almost anything. It means to no know restraint and to be prepared to participate in any kind of pleasure. Again, aselgia is our culture. Selfish ambition, from the Greek eritheia, came to denote anyone in the Greek culture who wanted a political office, not so he could serve the people, but so he could strip the country of its wealth for his own purposes. See this lately? It’s a terrible sin which tears a country apart while make the few rich. Dissension speaks of those things which cannot be brought together because a person does not want peace because they thrive on chaos. Again, this sin of the flesh is worn as an armband by combative people of all political stripes in our land.
Paul’s counsel is clear. Followers of Christ must constantly take stock of their lives to make sure none of these sins of the flesh are hamstringing and compromising spiritual growth and impact. Hence, daily we, as Christ followers, must be asking God to show us where the flesh is dominating so we can confess it and seek to live for Him. This is what our culture needs to see from the local church: Believers living like believers, showing them the lofty character traits which breed holiness, true spiritual growth, and peace.
Positively, Paul turns and tells us what traits should be seen in our lives:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another (Gal. 5:16-26 NKJ).
Love, agape, which is divine love, means I will love people no matter what insult or injury they throw my way. Agape love means you will only ever seek their highest good, not revenge or getting even. Kindness comes from chrestotes which means to show sweetness and compassion, maybe even to a person who doesn’t deserve it. When Jesus asked for the Father to forgive those who crucified Him, that was chrestotes in action. Our culture is known from showing rudeness and meanness toward people who sometimes only do good or have done nothing toward them. We are to be known as kind people because this is a fruit that comes from a life surrendered and dependent upon God. Gentleness is built on the word praotes, which means to be highly considerate of others. They speak evil of you, but you are gentle in return. They do you dirty, but you are gentle with the dirtiness.
I could go on but I think you get Paul’s command, not a suggestion. When I was a child, Dionne Warwick looked at the violence and mayhem of the Vietnam war in 1966, coupled with the rise of drugs and the desire to overthrow the bourgeois Christian culture and she sang . . .
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some, but for everyone
She was right, but only to a point.
What the world needed then, which it really needs now, is a faith relationship with the One who died for their sin. For then, and only then, can sinners, who are now indwelt by the Spirit, throw off the carnal characteristics which rip lives and societies apart and evidence fruit which brings spiritual maturity and peace.
May this be the year that we, as a church, are committed more than ever before to live by the Spirit so the fruit this produces in our lives changes lives around us for time and eternity. This is what we need. We don’t need another stack of Executive Orders to fix things. We don’t need more laws, less laws, or new laws. We need Christ and the transformative power He brings, via the Spirit, to lives yielded to Him.
Who among us will, then, say, “Lord, here is my life. Give me the power to yield it today to you”? Who among us will, then, sing, “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Let them flow in ceaseless praise”?